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Hope City


“Did you see the morning paper, Sam?” Liam, red-faced, held up the early edition of the San Francisco Examiner.

I shook my head. “No, I haven’t had a minute since we’ve opened,” I said, standing on the second to the top rung of the sliding wooden ladder, and reaching overhead to put away the back stock of coffee beans.

“The headline says,” he began, lowering his voice, trying to sound like one of our teachers from school, “JUNE 6TH, 1898—REPORTS FROM FARAWAY LAND, WHERE THE EARTH SEEMS LINED WITH GOLD.”

“Wow, that’s something,” I said, trying to sound interested, and pointed to the bags on the floor. “Hey, Liam, do me a favor and hand me one of those.”

Liam put down the newspaper, bent over to grab a ten-pound burlap sack of beans, and lifted it up to me.

“Sam, we should go to seek our fortune. You’ll never get rich working in the store for your dad, and I’ll never make a living slaving away in that saloon, cooking and cleaning tables for those drunkards.”

“Sounds good, Liam,” I whispered, “but please stop talking about it. Father doesn’t like conversations unsuitable for customers.”

Liam looked around. “There’s no one in the store,” he said, picking up the newspaper again. “It says people are flocking to Alaska by the thousands. So far they found more than a ton of nuggets.”

“You believe that crap?” I said, climbing down the ladder, and grabbing a broom to sweep up the errant coffee beans scattered across the floor.

Liam tapped the paper with a finger, and said, “If it’s printed here, it must be true.”

I shook my head and exhaled. “You’re naïve.”

“Doubt me at your own peril. But when I’m rich and living in one of those mansions up on Nob Hill, you’ll be stuck here helping customers.”

“That’s right, Liam. But you’re forgetting that this will be my store when Father retires, and maybe, if you’re nice to me, I’ll give you a job sweeping the floor when you return from your silly dreams of seeking your fortune.”

Just then the bells on the front door rang. I raised my eyebrows to Liam, and whispered, “I’ll see you later.”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Hawthorne. How may I be of service,” I said, keeping my gaze upon Liam, and jerking my head toward the door, encouraging his departure.

Liam smiled at the schoolteacher, and said, “Good day, sir,” and pushed the front door of Rothman’s General Store open, and exited onto Market Street.

Mr. Hawthorne glared suspiciously at me, and said, “Good morning, Master Samuel.”

I leaned the broom back in its corner and approached Mr. Hawthorne. “How may I be of service, sir?”

“Do you spend much time with young Liam?” he asked, removing his hat and placing it on the counter.

I furrowed my forehead at the derogatory phrase young in front of my friend’s name—after all we were the same age. “Liam and I are buddies,” I replied with an honest shrug.

Mr. Hawthorne leaned over, bringing his hawk-shaped nose close to mine, and wagged a finger at me. “Stay away from that boy, Samuel. You have a future. I assume that one day this store will be yours, and your buddy will work for wages, somewhere in the city,” he said, flicking his fingers, like he was dismissing a servant.

I forced a smile, and said, “Is there something I can help you with, sir?”

Mr. Hawthorne squinted his eyes to emphasize his words. “You’re seventeen years old, Samuel, and graduating high school in a few days. It’s time to think about your future, not fraternizing with people beneath your station.”

“Good morning, Mr. Hawthorne,” came the words from my father, Benjamin Rothman, who was walking down the wooden staircase from our rooms above the store.

“Ah, Benjamin, I was just telling your son about socializing with people who can help elevate his position in life.”

“I heard what you said, John, and I would appreciate if you would stick to your subjects of schooling, and leave his life’s lessons to me,” Father said.

“Of course, Mr. Rothman,” he replied, with reddening cheeks.

“Now, please tell me how I may be of service,” Father said with a smile.

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